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Graphene transistors   leading the way to the next level of technological innovation
 

Graphene transistors leading the way to the next level of technological innovation

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Discussing the development of graphene as a replacement for silicon in microchips

Discussing the development of graphene as a replacement for silicon in microchips

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    Graphene transistors   leading the way to the next level of technological innovation Graphene transistors leading the way to the next level of technological innovation Document Transcript

    • Graphene Transistors: Leading the Way to the Next Level of Technological Innovation <br />Presented By <br />Keith A. Adams<br />The Fall of Silicon …<br />“The remarkable increases in computer speed over the last few decades could be approaching an end, in part because silicon is reaching its physical limits.” Silicon is “used as [a] substrate[] in the manufacture of discrete electronic devices such as power transistors, and in the development of integrated circuits such as computer chips.” As the innovative value of silicon fades, it will become imperative for manufacturers to find a new way to further improve upon successor technologies. One such option that is being explored by IBM, HRL Laboratories, LLC and the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the graphene transistor. <br />Silicon is a conductor of electricity. It is through this conductance that it functions at the transistor and microchip level, by either allowing or disallowing electrical currents to proceed through, creating the ones and zeros needed for electrical devices to function. Graphene, made from graphite, the same substance found in a pencil, operates in a similar fashion. However, graphene transistors are an improvement over their silicon counterpart, as “for the same voltage, electrons zip around 10 times faster than in indium phosphide, or 100 times faster than in silicon.” Graphene uses less power and are cheaper to make than silicon, making them more cost efficient to both the manufacturer and user. Lastly, as graphene is made from graphite, the highest form of coal, a non-radioactive minimal, it stands to reason that graphene will also not be a radioactive material and pose no significant health risks in comparison to silicon. <br />… And the Rise of Graphene<br />Improving the performance of next generation microchips requires the “[i]ntegrat[ion of] new materials along with the miniaturization of transistors.” A transistor’s speed is determined by the size of the transistor along with the speed at which electrons flow through the device. Graphene allows the electrons to travel through it faster than “existing transceiver chip materials.” Further, graphene “exhibits the highest electronic quality among all known materials – higher than copper, gold, silicon, gallium arsenide, [and] carbon nanotubes.” <br />As graphene transistors are not end products in themselves, but are components, they are ideally marketed to manufacturers of electronics, especially microchip makers, like AMD or Intel. Currently, DARPA is the driving force behind much of the graphene transistor development. The graphene chips have the ability to operate in the terahertz range. This allows the chips to be used in place of X-rays, allowing the user to search for concealed weapons or even for medical imaging, but without the “same radiation dangers.” Additionally, the US Navy has found that graphene transistors can be used to detect chemical vapors, including nerve agents. Manufacturers of electronics equipment, including cellular telephones, would also benefit from high quality transistors. <br />Cellular service providers and communications equipment manufacturers, including the US government, would be ideal initial customers. Graphene transistors can make cellular telephones and cellular base stations “more sensitive and better able to pick up weak signals.” Cellular communications could be improved because the graphene transistors have a better “signal-to-noise ratio,” which essentially allows the cellular telephone to pick up and distinguish the radio waves from other waves around it. This improved signal-to-noise ratio may even allow future communications where none now exists. Graphene transistors are more efficient that silicon, resulting in less power used, and achieving improved battery life. <br />Hurdles to the Implementation of Graphene<br />While the outlook is positive for the graphene transistor, the picture is not all rosy, as there are some hurdles to overcome. One problem is the inability to develop the graphene transistors from the graphite itself. The current method, the silicon carbide method, results in “subpar-quality graphene” that are not living up to their full potential. However, one researcher noted, “The fundamentals are all there. Now it’s down to engineers to polish the processes involved” in making the graphene transistor. One technique used by a researcher includes carving into the graphene, a manufacturing process “very much like those used to manufacture silicon chips today.”<br />Another concern is turning the graphene transistor off. It conducts electricity, but cannot stop completely, i.e. turn off. Present research has shown that if the “graphene could be fashioned into very narrow ribbons, it would behave like a semiconductor,” with such observations being backed up by other research. Additionally, two other methods have been found to accomplish the same end, namely chemically modifying the graphene and placing a layer of another material on top of the graphene. Lastly, the graphene transistor is not likely to “make it into the consumers’ hands for another five or ten years” as methods to make the graphene structures and control their conductively still need to be resolved.<br />Why Switch to Graphene?<br />Briefly, this technology is capable of being profitable for military/security uses, medical uses, cellular communications and other electronics. Its applications are as boundless as the silicon transistor in use today. As a result, this technology will be profitable regardless of economic conditions or shifts in political or sociological attitudes, because at a minimum, we can always count on war, disease and cell phone use. The only difference is that as silicon is reaching the end of is innovational usefulness, whereas graphene is just being recognized for all the potential it has to drive the next generation of electronics.<br />